Quarterback Max Shortell hurt his right knee early in the second half and receiver Markis Merrill suffered a scary hip injury later in the third quarter.
It’s feared Merrill will be lost for the year. Shortell’s immediate return is considered 50-50. The Gamecocks will know more after the quarterback is examined Monday in Birmingham.
JSU coach Bill Clark said Sunday morning he was more physically upset about the injuries than the 31-15 loss to the Tigers.
“I’m really worried about Markis. That’s the one I prayed about,” Clark said. “I don’t know yet enough to say, but I can’t see him being back this year. But I don’t know the extent. ... I think they’re pretty secure he’s done for the year.”
Merrill was taken down on the sideline near the end zone after a 76-yard catch and run. He was taken from the field on a gurney, his legs wrapped together for stability, and taken to Gadsden Regional Medical Center, before being moved eventually to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
Merrill isn't the only receiver the Gamecocks potentially have lost for the year.
Dalton Screws suffered a broken collarbone when he fell awkwardly on a play some in the JSU camp thought deserved a pass interference penalty.
He will undergo surgery Tuesday.
He is hopeful of returning before the end of the season, but the family said doctors have told them that depends on how quickly the redshirt freshman heals.
The injury is a double blow to the Gamecocks' offense. Screws also holds on extra points and field goals.
Screws' father, Keith, said the setback has left his son "pretty down and out after working to get to be a starter" but believes he will come back stronger for the experience.
Shortell hurt his knee on a play that lost three yards and ended the opening drive of the second half. Eli Jenkins and Kyle West finished the game at quarterback.
Shortell is the team’s proven passer. He was 14 of 24 for 131 yards passing at the time of his injury. The other passers in the game were a combined 8 of 17 for 140 yards – most of it on Merrill’s catch – but the Gamecocks lost their ability to get the throws that were available in the game when the Minnesota transfer left.
This first open week of Clark’s head coaching tenure won’t take any different tenor than a normal week with the exception, of course, of no game on Saturday.
The team will practice Monday through Wednesday, working on several upcoming opponents and fundamentals that need to be addressed, before the players are turned loose. The coaches then will hit the road recruiting, with Clark trying to hit as many spots as possible.
When the Gamecocks (5-2, 1-2 OVC) return for the final, five-week stretch of the regular season, a stretch that includes three of the toughest opponents on their schedule, their approach will not change. One week at a time become even more important now.
“I think it’s going to be a real positive deal,” Clark said of the break. “We’ll work the first of the week, get it done and let’s truly let them recharge.
“It’s a five-week stretch. I tell them, ‘What can you not do for five weeks?’ Let’s be great for these five weeks and be great the week we come back. I think that’s what our guys will do.”
Receiver Josh Barge is up for the challenge. Even though the Gamecocks have two losses in the league, the red-shirt sophomore wasn’t discouraged by the latest loss.
“We just have to continue to get better,” he said. “This ain’t the end of the world. There’s still a chance; you never know what’s going to happen with other teams in the conference.
“All we can worry about is us right now. We just dug ourselves a hole; we just have to find a way out. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe we can do it. We work too hard not to do it.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.